Several months ago, two organizations, Chelsea’s Light Foundation and Chelsea’s Shield, received a flurry of publicity and promotion. Both operate under the auspices of Brian King, father of Chelsea King, a California teenager raped and murdered in 2010 by a registered sex offender. Yesterday, with the announcement that Chris Kelly, a former Facebook executive, has joined with the King family, more publicity on their highly publicized political agenda will be forthcoming.
This will be a two-part series analyzing Chelsea’s Law, the legislation that the organizations and those associated with them, are pushing in every state.
As the two parts that make up the series were originally written as stand-alone pieces, there is some overlap in a few details.
Part I: What Is Chelsea's Law?
(originally printed March 12, 2013, at Deerfield Patch)
How It Began: Who is John Albert Gardner?
John Albert Gardner is an inmate in the California prison system for the rest of his life. This is a timeline of the salient points, beginning in 2000 when he was 21 years old.
2000 convicted of child molestation; sentenced to 8 years
2005 released on parole
2008 completed parole
2009 Feb. Amber Dubois, 14, disappeared
2010 Feb. 25 Chelsea King, 17, disappeared
Feb. 28 Gardner arrested in disappearance of Chelsea
March 2 Chelsea's body found
March 6 Amber's body found
April 16 Gardner entered guilty pleas to both murders
May 14 sentenced to two life sentences with no parole possibility
Sept. 9 Chelsea's Law signed into CA law by governor
What Is Chelsea's Law?
"Chelsea's Law allows life without parole sentences for adult predators who kidnap, drug, bind, torture or use a weapon while committing a sex crime against a child. Life terms could be ordered for first-time and repeat offenders. It also increases other penalties for child molesters, including requiring lifetime parole with GPS tracking for people convicted of forcible sex crimes against children under 14." (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/09/chelseas-law-signed-by-sc_n_711115.html)
Mandatory minimum sentencing laws have a major flaw; as other offenses that may not rise to the same level of seriousness are added to the qualifying offenses, as they historically have been, a court has no power to use its discretion in meting out a different sentence; mandatory minimums remove all sentencing power from judges.
What Have Been the Results of Chelsea’s Law?
Chelsea’s Shield, a non-profit organization formed by Chelsea’s father, Brian King, to lobby for expansion of Chelsea’s Law into other states, has shared this in a report:
“They released a report on the impact of Chelsea's Law. The study found that between September 2011 and August 2012, 22 defendants were charged under provisions of Chelsea's Law in San Diego County. The eight cases that have been resolved resulted in longer prison sentences than there would be have been before the law was enacted, the report said.” (http://www.10news.com/news/chelseas-law-may-expand-to-other-states-030113)
Chelsea’s Light Foundation, another organization formed by the King family and CA legislator Nathan Fletcher, shows more defendants charged under the law but does not speak to any actual sentences.
“The studies have concluded the law's initial impact as positive, with a total of 41 individuals in San Diego County charged under Chelsea’s Law between September 2010 and September 2012, and 33 individuals in Orange County charged since September 2011.” (http://scoopsandiego.com/news/local/chelsea-s-law-introduced-in-texas-and-illinois/article_229f6470-828a-11e2-88e4-0019bb30f31a.html)
What Do These Results Mean?
Using the information available, the summary is this: in the two years since Chelsea’s Law was signed into law, 74 individuals have been charged under the law, and 8 individuals have had their sentences impacted due to it.
What Has Been the Impact on Public Safety?
When then-governor Schwarzenegger signed the bill, he said, “Because of Chelsea, this never has to happen again." Has it never happened again? Have no other children or teens in CA been abducted and murdered by repeat sexual offenders since Sept. 9, 2010? Since this is such an extremely rare occurrence, it is quite possible that it hasn’t. According to the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Crimes Against Children Spotlight, August 2011, in cases of children or teens taken and sexually assaulted and/or murdered, “… less than 1 percent of the abductors were RSOs [registered sex offenders.]”
Chelsea’s Light Foundation included this in their recent release: “In California, the circumstances which lead to the tragic death of Chelsea King can never be repeated as a result of [Chelsea’s Law].” The fact is, had Chelsea’s Law been in effect before John Gardner murdered Amber Dubois and Chelsea King, it would not had saved them. Prior to his killing spree, his sexual offense had none of the elements that fall under Chelsea’s Law scrutiny. He would not have been still in prison or being monitored.
Shouldn’t Those Who Commit Heinous Crimes Be Severely Punished?
Of course they should. The real questions are: will this law actually save even one child, and will this law continue to target only those now stated, or will it, as versions of it are suggesting, cast its net over a much broader scope and larger scale? (http://www.stopchildpredators.org/legislation/model.htm)
Is Expanding Chelsea’s Law to Other States Good Legislation?
The states first being targeted are Texas and Illinois with Utah, Ohio, and Massachusetts soon to follow. Brent King has said, “I want to protect every child in every state….” Nathan Fletcher has said the legislation will target "the worst of the worst" offenders. Will this legislation, targeting the “worst of the worst,” protect “every child in every state”?
The problem with targeting the "worst of the worst" and focusing so intensely on them, even if all versions of the bill stayed within those parameters, is that huge amounts of resources are expended addressing the tiniest fraction of those who sexually harm children, leaving nothing with which to address the far greater issue of child molestation at the hands of those in their lives who have no previous conviction for a sexual crime. All laws currently in place already do what extending "Chelsea's Law" will do; they ignore the plight of untold thousands of children who are molested by those they know and trust, and they do little to nothing to protect even one. Does any state need another law that will do more of the same?